February 21, 2008

Slimes At The Times

The New York Times launches its long-awaited smear of John McCain today, and the most impressive aspect of the smear is just how baseless it is. They basically emulate Page Six at the Post, but add in a rehash of a well-known scandal from twenty years ago to pad it out and make it look more impressive. In the end, they present absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing -- only innuendo denied by all of the principals:

Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.

Got that? Nothing actually happened. The big story here is that there may have been an "appearance" of a "close bond".

And where did the Times get this information? Well, you have to read past the rehash of the Keating Five scandal of the mid-1980s, past a strange accusation involving McCain's use of direct flights from Washington to Phoenix, and past his crusade to clean up Washington through the BCRA (which I adamantly opposed and still do) to get to the Slimes' sourcing. It turns out that they talked to two anonymous former staffers -- neither of whom allege that the relationship actually became romantic -- and who describe themselves as disgruntled.

Great sourcing there, guys. Way to corroborate a non-story. I guess Lucy Ramirez must have been hard to find this time around.

Let's give credit where credit is due. JIM RUTENBERG, MARILYN W. THOMPSON, DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and STEPHEN LABATON all show the kind of journalistic chops that made Us such a must-read in doctor's offices and lavatories around the world. The next time, they need to include more pictures of Britney Spears exiting limousines to capture the essence of this kind of reporting.

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